“I normally would have fruits and vegetables the first few weeks of the month, but by the end of the month, I didn’t have the resources to get more,” said Theresa, a Bellwether Housing resident. Things changed for Theresa last November when she began to receive Fresh Bucks Vouchers in the mail.
The Fresh Bucks Vouchers allowed Theresa to go buy fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables at farmers markets, Safeway stores, and some neighborhood grocers around Seattle. She and the vast majority of other Bellwether resident households received $60 in Fresh Bucks Vouchers monthly from November 2018 to February 2019. Bellwether’s Resident Services Coordination staff helped ensure that all eligible Bellwether households received vouchers. Altogether over those four months, Bellwether residents received $477,600 for purchasing fruits and vegetables.
The vouchers compliment the of the City of Seattle’s seven year-old Fresh Bucks Match program, which matches SNAP recipients’ food stamps dollar-for-dollar at farmers markets with Fresh Bucks for purchasing fruits and vegetables. The voucher portion of the program debuted in 2018 as a result of revenue from the City’s Sweetened Beverage Tax.
“Many of our residents, especially our older residents and large families, rely on local food banks and meal delivery services every month,” explains Elliot Swanson, Bellwether’s Resident Services Manager. “The Fresh Bucks program made it much easier for our residents to get nutritious food without having to visit multiple food banks or worry about spending more they can afford at the grocery store.”
Deanna, a Bellwether resident, couldn’t afford to buy many fresh fruits and vegetables prior to receiving Fresh Bucks. She estimates that her typically monthly food budget is $132. “I’d been living sparsely due to spending most of my income on medical bills,” Deanna said. Receiving $60 for fruits and vegetables completely changed what Deanna could cook and eat.
“It was a delight to have such a variety of things. I made kimchi, fermented vegetables, and chutney. I loved the smell of fresh vegetables in my home,” Deanna said, noting that before receiving Fresh Bucks she never thought she would make her signature chutney recipe again.
For Theresa, the vouchers not only helped her afford fruits and vegetables throughout the month, but they allowed her to buy some of her favorite fruits like grapes, avocados, and Honey Crisp apples that she typically forgoes due to their higher price tags.
Both Theresa and Deanna noted benefits of receiving the Fresh Bucks Vouchers beyond simply what foods they could buy and eat.
“I have felt better since having Fresh Bucks. I’ve gone through some pretty devastating things, and by having fresh fruits and vegetables, I was more up to the task of handling them,” Deanna said.
For Theresa, Fresh Bucks made it easier to afford other essentials.
“Seattle is an expensive city to live in, so for people like me without much wiggle room [in our budgets], $60 a month for food takes the pressure off and frees up money for other things,” Theresa said.
After the four-month trial for the Fresh Bucks Vouchers, Seattle opened an online lottery in early March for 2,000 households to receive $40 a month in vouchers for produce. Both Deanna and Theresa applied. Theresa was placed on the waitlist, and Deanna was awaiting word about whether or not she’d keep receiving vouchers at the time of publishing this article. Both residents would love to see the City make the program available to more than 2,000 Seattleites in the future since they believe it offers a tremendous benefit to lower income households.
“Receiving Fresh Bucks was such an unexpected treat. It was like, “Someone cares.” It was really nurturing and special,” Deanna said.
Updated 3/26/19: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that 2,500 households would receive Fresh Bucks Vouchers through a City of Seattle lottery. The previous version also incorrectly stated that these households will receive $60 per month. They will receive $40 per month in Fresh Bucks Vouchers.